As well as launching myriad formats in the early-1970s DC experimented with photo covers, where they tried combining comics with photographs. Ever the pioneer, Jack Kirby had utilised photos on occasional covers and interiors since the 1940s. Kirby was a big fan of collage, mixing and matching disparate magazine photos to startling effect. Marvel’s  Fantastic Four and Thor in the 1960s had featured some full page images composed of Kirby’s collages.

With Kirby newly arrived at DC, Jack Adler, DC’s production genius, took up the baton and decided to give collage thing a whirl. “We had an idea for a long time to combine fantasy with reality,” explained Adler in Amazing World of DC Comics. Thus was the Scarlet Speedster chosen as the subject of the first of DC’s photo covers:

Cover to Flash #203, Jack Adler, photo

Flash #203, February 1971

For this, Adler took a photo of some DC staffers and combined it with a Neal Adams drawing of the Flash and Iris. The background figures were retouched to make them unrecognisable. The result is one of the great photo covers of the decade. In many ways it anticipates that famous a-ha video of the 80s where the a girl was pulled into a cartoon to meet the lead singer.

Perhaps not surprisingly Kirby quickly joined in the fun:

New Gods # 1 cover, Jack Kirby, photo

New Gods #1, March 1971

This cover had originally been prepared for an issue of Showcase, but that title was cancelled before it saw print.  Instead Kirby’s Fourth World flagship was launched under its own banner. The Orion figure was from Kirby’s original presentation piece that had been drawn while he was still at Marvel. Inked by Don Heck, the unusual colour scheme was by Kirby himself. The background, however, is a photographic collage. In my opinion, the result is interesting, but not particularly successful. However, one person I know considers this the greatest cover of all time.

As the Fourth World saga rolled on, the covers of the second and third issues of Forever People were also collages. Kirby was nominally the editor of the books he worked on, but as he lived in California and DC was in New York I’m sure he had some kind of editorial assistant in the office who made production decisions. Perhaps it was Adler who made the suggestion. Given his track record with collage, though, I think we can assume these cover layouts were Kirby’s. They strongly recall his Fantastic Four experiments of a few years earlier.

Forever People #2 cover, Jack Kirby, photo cover

Forever People #2, May 1971

Forever People #3 cover, Jack Kirby, photo cover

Forever People #3, July 1971

You’ll notice that all the photos used on all these covers are black and white (that Flash cover has just been hand tinted to make it look colour). I’m not entirely sure why this was—after all Gold Key had full colour covers for most of its licenced properties—but was probably to do with cost. Full colour gravure or offset printing cost a fair chunk of change, demanding high sales to make it profitable. When the images were merely being used as background elements to add interest, it didn’t justify the extra outlay.

We’ll continue this look at DC’s photo covers in Part 2…

Images ©2012 DC Comics